REVIEW: WOODY ALLEN - A DOCUMENTARY (2012)

By Sean Malin

woody at typewriter

The true appeal of a famous entertainer is impossible to put into words, but it can be simplified to say that that person is worth watching no matter what the context. In this way, director Robert B. Weide has tapped an easily accessible vein in his new film Woody Allen: A Documentary, in which celebrities talk about working with a celebrity. Originally presented as a television documentary for the American Masters anthology series on the Public Broadcasting Service, Weide’s cinematic cut is, somehow, a wonderful treat worth leaving the couch to see in theaters.

Shown at the 2012 Sydney Film Festival to bombastic applause, the documentary traces the extensive career of film director, comedian, musician, writer, and actor Woody Allen from his childhood just outside New York City. Allen, born Stewart Allen Konigsberg, allows himself moments of candid nostalgia for his youth and the few years of his life when he was not famous. Allen himself brings the documentary crew to his family’s neighborhood in a moment of sweet pleasure. To see such a well-known figure, prominent in the public eye since he began writing jokes for the famous comedian Sid Caesar at age seventeen, give openly of his childhood memories is astonishing.

Weide, serving as producer and primary writer in addition to directing, captures the affection that international audiences have for his subject. Film luminaries, including legendary director Martin Scorsese, critic Leonard Maltin, and actress Scarlett Johannson all praise Allen as the most intelligent and adept artist of his time. It is high praise, but Allen’s near-universal acclaim is also used to justify their claims. As a filmmaker and writer, Woody Allen has been awarded Oscars for his direction and scripts four times. As a professional jazz clarinetist, he has performed at the Pompidou, Carnegie Hall, and in other famous venues. The list of his accolades goes on and on, and Weide makes certain to touch on every achievement.

What makes Woody Allen: A Documentary such an engrossing watch is the amount of respect and interest with which the filmmaker explores the life of his subject. Though Allen has been the subject of scandal as well as acclaim, the film never leads anywhere but down the roads of praise. Certainly, every interview is more and more revealing, but only of Woody Allen’s great talent, ebullience, and fascinating charisma. It is a documentary about a genius, and really, what could be more appealing?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

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